Criterion for retirement not always age, depends more on demography
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar is known for his unexpected candour.editorials Updated: Dec 01, 2015 22:13 IST
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar is known for his unexpected candour. A little over a year after taking over as defence minister, Mr Parrikar has spoken aloud his thoughts on retirement. Turning 60 in December, he said “after 60 (years), one has to think of retirement… I had started thinking about retirement two-three years back. I have to intensify that, therefore, I don’t feel inclined to take up big responsibilities”.
There is no indication that Mr Parrikar has any plans to leave New Delhi just yet but his remarks raise pertinent questions about the issue of retirement in India. We regrettably do not discuss this enough in the public sphere; the issue tends to come up in the context of discussing the future of politicians where cynicism about the political class expresses itself as a voice for fast-tracking their obsolescence. Even then there is more heat than light. Arbitrary milestones are picked for passage to oblivion to let the younger, trendier lot take over. In the case of political leaders, these issues are easier to settle. Retirement has less to do with age than enduring ability, staying adept with policy conversations, retaining the capacity to grapple with complex challenges, inspire and lead. Hillary Clinton is 68 and the arguably the best debater in the US political scene. Winston Churchill was 65 when he gave his ‘finest hour’ speech and went on to lead his country during war for five years, besides being able to do copious amounts of writing (and painting).
The issue of retirement age for the public is a trickier matter. Governments need to balance the vitality of seniors with the impatience of the young. With improvements in medicine we live a third of our lives as ‘old’ people, many look to work longer while adding to pressure on pensions and health services. Western societies which have ageing, declining populations have the easier option of raising the retirement age or increasing immigration to make up for labour shortfalls. India does not have that luxury though. Increasing the retirement age would mean delaying the entry of the young into the workforce, which is politically not tenable for a country where 65% of the population is under 35 years of age. Jettisoning the old and letting go of experience while educational standards are falling — paradoxically amid the improvements in technology — also have their own costs. India is expected to have 173 million seniors by 2026. With tenured jobs getting scarce, social mores and commitments under strain, social security systems overstretched and, in large swathes, non-existent, governments will have their hands full balancing the competing claims of the young and the old.